Projecting the Nats Free Agent Contracts Using the Fangraphs Model, Why Desmond and Zimmermann Are Tough

desmond zimm

David Cameron of FanGraphs did a little analysis of the off season free agent contracts and developed a nifty formula for determining contract length and value using only the players projected next year WAR.

To understand the formula, click the linked article.  It has a correlation of 95%.  So, while not perfect, it points out some of the internal conflicts the Nats are facing with their free agents.

The formula has a few rules:

  •  Only the players projected WAR next year is used
  •  Relief pitchers don’t count.
  •  No player over 35

The formula was pretty simple when calculating contract value: 5 million per projected WAR

Contract length is calculated by putting players in 3 groups.  Higher the projected WAR the more years on the contract.

These are the 3 groups

+3 WAR and up: 2014 WAR * 2.0
+2 to +2.9 WAR: 2014 WAR * 1.5
+1 to +1.9 WAR: 2014 WAR * 1.1

The Nationals have 3 potential free agents out in the 2016 season.  Warning, the projected WAR seems low on a few Nats players because the projection also factors injuries that might prevent the player from reaching the expected WAR

Ian Desmond:

Projected WAR 3.15 (average Steamer/ZiPS)

Projected Contract: 6 Years 95M or 7 years 114M

This seem about right, but he is on the border between a 6 and 7 year contract. If he ends up with a projected WAR of 3.25 or higher he would round up to a 7 year contract.   His closest comparable player from this year is Choo who ended up with the 7th year and a 130M contract.  Desmond is very close  to projecting as elite, which would push him into the 100M contract territory that only Werth and Zim are currently in.  Another 5 WAR year like last year, is probably worth 20-25M on his next contract.  This probably explains why the team and player are in a wait an see mode.

Denard Span:

Projected WAR: 2.45

Projected Contact: 4 years 49M

Denard is actually a free agent after this year with a 9M option the Nats can exercise for 2015.  Based on this model, his option would be a good deal for the Nats assuming that Brian Goodwin follows his projected development curve and is ready by May 2016.  A player like Span is pretty easy to peg for a contract, very good, but not elite.  That being said,  he would have been one of the top 10 players in Free Agency this year.

Jordan Zimmermann

Projected WAR: 2.7

Project Contract: 4 years 54 M

This is why I think the Nats and Zimmermann are struggling to come up with a contract.  Zimm has always been a higher FIP pitcher due to his pitch to contact style with a low BABP which negatively impacts his projected WAR. He has the lowest strike out % of any pitcher in the top 30.   I am sure Zimm and his agent see him as  3+ WAR pitcher, which he actually has been the last 3 years.  Lets assume he projects to a 3WAR that puts him at 6 years and 90M.  All it takes is one team to agree that Zimm is a 3.25 WAR or higher pitcher and then he is at the 7 year 100M level which I think he will eventually sign for.  The models love a high strikeout pitcher like Strasburg and are very suspicious of pitcher who pitch to poor contact.  In Strasburg’s case, both the models and performance match, in Zimm they don’t.  Viewed through this lens, it is easier to understand why Zimm has not, and probably will not sign a long term extension before he hits the market.


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